I feel obliged to begin this article with a disclaimer. I am certainly not an expert on the behavioral differences between the genders, nor am I a leading authority on the many topics that comprise “diversity” issues.
What I do have is almost three decades of practical experience working as a manager, consultant, and workshop facilitator with a large number of groups widely diverse in their composition. Comparing these experiences to those where homogeneity in composition characterized the group before me, certain patterns of distinct behavioral differences consistently occurred. Granted the few observations below are aggregate generalizations but I believe they are sufficient to warrant your careful consideration when hiring or selecting a group of people with whom you will be working closely over an extended period of time.
Human nature, it seems to me, is powerfully drawn to sameness. There is an apparent comfort and predictability in things that are alike, which unconsciously influences us in selecting our mates, friends, and colleagues to pick individuals that are a lot like us. Diversity or differences introduces uncertainty and unpredictability, which is unsettling for many. Diversity forces us to open our minds to things and ideas that are new, which carry their own reward but only after we find our footing outside our natural comfort zone. As a manager, I believe the following rewards in particular, are well worth the investment.
First, diverse groups — by which I mean groups that, in various combinations, cut across gender, race, age, cultural and educational background, and work/life experiences — tend to lessen the likelihood of frequent comments and statements that convey underlying prejudices and stereotypic views of issues, people and events. Peer pressure is a powerful force and in this case the pressure is towards openness and sensitivity.
Second, diverse groups are less likely to arrive at common “groupthink views” of the topics they engage. Homogeneity is homogeneity. Groups where everybody is alike in gender, race, age, and background experience are far more likely to share a common outlook on subjects and things, than a diverse collection of individuals. This broad common consensus often tends to isolate anybody offering a different point of view, which in turn authorizes everybody else to ignore what she or he has to say. It is very hard for one or two outliers to stand up to the common consensus — or sway the views of — a larger group.
Diversity in groups offers far greater potential that a variety of views and perspectives will quickly surface on any subject. A multiplicity of views, in turn, encourages everybody but the most close-minded among us, to open their minds to considerations they may not have thought of themselves. I have spoken often in these articles about the wisdom contained in a collective set of minds. The more diverse a group is, the richer and well-rounded that wisdom is likely to become. So surround yourself with a diverse group of folks who will challenge your ideas, present you with their own, argue with you, and force you to flesh out your ideas and support your positions with facts not opinions. You will be a better manager as a result.
Third, when decisions are required, a group of diverse participants will generally result in the consideration of a broader set of options for potential action and a potentially richer discussion of the pros and cons of each. If you believe, as I do, that “there are many roads to Albuquerque” so to speak, why not consider as many reasonable approaches as possible before making your choice. And remember that as managers, your job is to get things right, not being the one who was right.
Finally, as a manager, demonstrating your appreciation of the many advantages of surrounding yourself with diversity, teaches and role models that value to all those around you. As a designated authority and leader, others watch closely what you do. Talking diversity is fine. But demonstrating that you value its contribution to your success by your actions, is where the real power to influence others lies.